It’s sometimes easy to forget that Pile grew out of being the solo project of founder and frontman Rick Maguire. While performing in Hel Toro in the mid-’00s, Maguire began making home recordings as Pile as a means of exploring whatever musical curiosity captured his interest, and when he began performing these songs live, he did so via basic solo-guy-with-acoustic-guitar set up. It wasn’t until the release of 2009’s Jerk Routine, Pile’s second album, that it became a proper band. Maguire’s ideas gradually became fleshed out into what’s now one of America’s most dynamic and thrilling underground bands, their punchy post-hardcore dynamic truly coming alive with ferocity during their phenomenal live shows. But Maguire’s singer/songwriter roots still guide the material; “It Comes Closer,” the leadoff track on Pile’s ninth album All Fiction, is an eerily quiet introduction to one of the most delightfully weird chapters in the band’s catalog, stripping away the thunderous explosions in favor of a chamber dirge that slowly creeps toward the subtlest of climaxes. There’s a lot going on amid its hazy atmosphere, but it’s easy to imagine Maguire playing this alone on his guitar, with very little being sacrificed.
All Fiction, arriving 18 years into the history of Pile, embraces the simplicity of Maguire’s singer/songwriter roots to more seamless effect than ever before, but it never reads as anything so basic as indie folk. If anything, this the most ambitious and atmospherically immersive album in Pile’s body of work yet, a rich work of art rock that challenges us to rethink what Pile ultimately is—even when it kicks ass.
And let there be no ambiguity here: It does kick ass, but in often unconventional ways. “Loops” immediately feels like one of the heaviest moments on any Pile album, not for any particular guitar tone or driving riff but rather Kris Kuss’ pummeling rhythms which are less about keeping time than causing a series of physical blows to land with maximum impact. All the while, the rest of the song becomes a dizzying blur of sound rather than of discreet instrumental performances—it’s an intoxicating kind of confusion.
Maguire has said that much of the music that he listened to while crafting these songs skews outside of more conventional guitar rock—Kate Bush, Aphex Twin and Mount Eerie to name a few examples—and that fascination and focus on the bigger picture rather than of the more specific dynamic between three players in a room removes whatever boundaries might have previously hemmed in their approach. With the more immersive production approach, it feels apt to drop a comparison like Radiohead’s Kid A when hearing standouts such as the sinister build of “Link Arms,” the ambient pop grace of “Lowered Rainbow,” or the richly layered and intricate progression of “Nude With a Suitcase.” For as much as been said about Pile as being an even better live band than on record, here they’ve crafted something of imagination well beyond the constraints of the club stage.
In all fairness to Pile, they’ve been building toward this for a long time; albums like 2017’s A Hairshirt of Purpose and 2019’s Green and Gray represented an expansion and refinement, respectively, of the ideas they’ve been pursuing for nigh on to two decades. All Fiction finds them setting their sights much farther off in the horizon, rethinking the idea of what kind of rock band they are while remaining focused on creating a great song above all—no matter the context it’s in.
Label: Exploding In Sound
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.